Roberta Vinci of Italy will be Maria Sharapova’s first opponent on the Russian’s return from a drugs ban after the two were drawn together in the first round of the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
Vinci, the world number 35 will clash with Sharapova, who served a 15-month suspension after testing positive for meldonium, on Wednesday (April 26) – the day the 30-year-old’s ban comes to an end.
As a result, Sharapova will not even be allowed to enter the Porsche Arena until the day of her match.
The contest will be the Russian’s first appearance in a competitive match since the 2016 Australian Open.
The five-time Grand Slam champion has controversially been awarded a wildcard by tournament organizers and has progressed straight through to the main draw, a decision that has sparked criticism from players on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour.
The latest to hit out at Sharapova was Agnieszka Radwańska, the world number eight, who insisted the Russian should not be given a wildcard for the next two Grand Slams – the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris and Wimbledon.
Radwańska said she should have to earn her place at the two tournaments by “playing well” and not through wildcard entries.
The Pole and the Russian could be set for an awkward meeting at the Porsche Grand Prix as they will meet in the second round should they both win their opening matches.
Radwańska, the seventh seed for the tournament in the German city, has been drawn to face Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova.
The build-up to Sharapova’s return has been plagued with players speaking out about her being given wildcards for tournaments, with former world number one Caroline Wozniacki claiming she should not have been granted automatic entry to the event in Stuttgart.
Last week, Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud reacted angrily to the comments made by Wozniacki and Radwańska.
“All those ‘journeyman’ players like Radwańska and Wozniacki who have never won a slam and the next generation passing them,” Eisenbud said.
“They are smart to try to keep Maria out of Paris.”
Sharapova was initially banned for two years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) before her suspension was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)
CAS ruled that her case was “not about an athlete who cheated” and that she was not an “intentional doper.”
Sharapova admitted she had been complacent in an interview with The Times magazine earlier this month, but also criticized the ITF for not doing more to inform her that meldonium had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List.
The event began with qualification today, with Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko beating Jennifer Brady of the United States 5-7, 6-1, 6-3.
Top qualifying seed Naomi Osaka is also safely through to the main draw as she overcame Germany’s Katharina Hobgarski 7-5, 6-2.
By Liam Morgan
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.